Honey or Sugar – Which is Healthier?

Honey vs. Sugar

When food companies want to entice consumers to buy their sweetened products, they like to use the word “Honey sweetened” as a selling point. Sometimes, even when honey is present in tiny proportions compared to sugar (hello Honey Nut Cheerios). In most people’s minds, honey is a healthier alternative to sugar.

But what does the science say? Is honey truly a healthier choice?

What you need to know:

Honey is composed mostly of the monosaccharide molecules glucose and fructose, just like table sugar. It has a higher moisture content than table sugar, about 17% water. There are also small amounts of pollen, wax, and minerals to be found in honey.

One teaspoon of honey has 22 calories vs only 16 calories for sugar. This seems counter intuitive because a teaspoon of honey contains only 82% blend of sweeteners (the rest being water), vs 99.98% for table sugar. The caloric difference can be explained by the higher density of honey in a teaspoon compared to table sugar. 100 grams of sugar has 380 calories. The same amount of honey has just 300 calories, 27% less.

In sugar, the fructose and glucose molecules are bound together chemically into a molecule called sucrose. In honey, the fructose and glucose molecules are floating around separately. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and sucrose. In honey, there is slightly more fructose than glucose. That’s why honey is a bit sweeter than sugar. So despite a higher calorie count, you need less to feel the same amount of sweetness.

Honey has been found to have some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, unlike sugar. The presence of trace minerals and vitamins may be viewed as an advantage, but the values are so low that honey can’t really be considered a source of nutrients. For example, you would need 40 cups of honey a day to reach your daily iron requirements. There are many other purported health benefits to honey, usually brought forth by organizations trying to promote its consumption.

Honey may contain a dormant bacteria called clostridium botulinum. It is extremely dangerous to babies – botulism can lead to death – and that’s why honey is not recommended under the age of 12 months.

Bottom line: Both honey and sugar should be consumed in limited amounts. Honey may have a slight edge, but excess consumption of either is a bigger danger to your health than the advantage of choosing one over the other.

Get Fooducated

  • http://www.facebook.com/peteszekely Pete Szekely

    Stop feeding your sugar addiction … Un pasteurized local honey has added health benefits such as fighting allergies. Try palm sugar … It has a lower glycemic index : )
    Http://www.healthierlife.ca

    • Lawrence Morris

      Amen brother! I’ve been taking natural local honey for 2 years, and have not had to take ANY allergy medications. I not only feel better, but healthier too.

  • Cintron

    Might just be a slight advantage, but I’ll take it. I’ve ben using honey to sweeten my coffee and pancakes for a couple of years now :)

  • Brad Trnavsky

    I like honey if for no other reason than it’s closer to what it started out as.

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea T

    So next is a post about apples? :) Shana tova to you and yours, Hemi!
    I refer to raw honey as a superfood but it is still sugar so should be used sparingly. It’s a shame: I have candida issues and should avoid honey but it’s so full of good stuff.

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  • RB

    This is an over simplified look at honey. There are thousands of varieties and qualities. Local, Raw, Organic, Manuka, Dandelion, Rata, Non-GMO, Multi-floral, Beechwood, there are honeys that are loaded with pollen, propolis, antioxidants. I would take honey over white sugar any day. There are so many qualities to honey that producers are not allowed say about because when you mention benefits the FDA gets involved.

  • George Babbitt

    Don’t change the subject. Yesterday’s discussion still waits in the wings to be resolved, and this site has done nothing to convince that a ‘nanny-state’, classist, stereotypical, biased, holier-than-though position on this matter has any merit other than to satisfy the self-righteous goals of a hypocritical statist agenda such as this.

  • Liv marie

    I love honey! Is raw better than the regular stuff or is all the same?

  • ginger_katz

    So how do so-called “all natural” sweeteners like brown rice syrup compare to sugar and honey?

  • waynecollections

    There are so many foods that have amazing nutritional benefits but one would have to eat a large amount to obtain the benefits. But whether or not, honey is still amazing. Still continuing to use it in small amounts. ;D There must be some benefits even in small amounts.

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  • Julian

    “Honey is composed mostly of the monosaccharide molecules glucose and fructose, just like table sugar.” Not quite correct; sucrose is an entirely different molecule (a disaccharide), and must be broken down to glucose and fructose in the digestive system (by the enzyme sucrase) before it can be assimilated through the intestinal membrane. See the Wikipedia entry for sucrose for further details.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Perhaps the grammar wasn’t perfect, the meaning was that both honey and sugar are composed of glucose and fructose. As you correctly wrote, in honey they are in monosaccharide form, and in sugar they are chemically bound as the disaccharide sucrose. BTW, when in an acidic environment at room temp or higher (for example a can of Coke in a warehouse), the sucrose breaks down into the individual monosaccharides glucose and fructose and is called invert sugar.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Perhaps the grammar wasn’t perfect, the meaning was that both honey and sugar are composed of glucose and fructose. As you correctly wrote, in honey they are in monosaccharide form, and in sugar they are chemically bound as the disaccharide sucrose. BTW, when in an acidic environment at room temp or higher (for example a can of Coke in a warehouse), the sucrose breaks down into the individual monosaccharides glucose and fructose and is called invert sugar.

  • http://www.laurafitch.tumblr.com/ Laura

    Is it true that honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar? And, if so, how important is this?

  • JV

    People are often quick to get all defensive about honey when it’s brought down to earth in articles like this. But take a second and consider what this article is actually aiming at. It doesn’t say that table sugar is better than honey. The author clearly says the opposite, that honey has the edge over table sugar (though by a smaller margin probably than most honey enthusiasts want to believe). It is not pro table sugar propaganda. The point here isn’t to convince you that ‘see? table sugar isn’t that bad really, compared to honey.’, but rather that you shouldn’t put honey on a pedestal. It is a slightly better choice than table sugar, yes, but should still be eaten in moderation. It is not a miracle food that comes with no downsides. Moderation is always key. If you eat a little honey in your tea, or on your toast at breakfast, no problem. But I think this article is more aimed at people who sweeten ‘everything’ with honey, and do so honestly believing that they are making a healthy choice because they’re not eating table sugar. Many people eat diets with way Way WAY too much sugar in them, and now that people are slowly becoming more conscious of the problems caused by diets high in added sugar they are looking to alternative sweeteners like honey as the solution. They think they can continue to eat all the sweet foods they want as long as the sweeteners are ‘natural’. The solution, in fact, is to eat less added sugar, not to replace ridiculous amounts of added table sugar, with ridiculous amounts of added honey. Articles like this aren’t for people who want a little sweetener in their coffee. They are for people who think that they can consume as much honey as they want to no ill effect because it is natural. That’s not how it works.

  • Moondancer

    if you can find raw local honey it is way better and will help with allergies from plants in that area…..I have been using the real honey from where I live and let me just say my allergy meds are in the bottle not in me.